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Published: Thursday, 7/2/2009

Hancock County woman's tale part of 14-state fraud probe

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

FINDLAY - It's an all-too-familiar refrain: an elderly resident scammed after letting a part-time hobby become a full-time passion.

That's what the state of Ohio believes happened to an 82-year-old southern Hancock County woman who claims to have lost thousands of dollars buying rare coins from several companies.

Her case is the center of a complaint that Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray has filed in Hancock County Common Pleas Court against one of those companies, Alliance Coin Inc. of Amityville, N.Y., and its owner, Barry J. Rothman of Oceanside, N.Y.

It also is part of a broader effort called "Operation Short Change" in which the Federal Trade Com-mission, the U.S. Department of Justice, and authorities from 14 states and the District of Columbia have cracked down on those it believes have exploited the economic downturn to defraud consumers.

Mr. Rothman declined to comment on the allegations. As of yesterday, Alliance Coin Inc. had an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau that represents metropolitan New York, Long Island, and New York's mid-Hudson region. The company began 17 years ago and was accredited by the Better Business Bureau on June 27, 2008, the bureau's Web site states.

The Hancock County woman, who identified herself to The Blade as a former Rossford teacher, claims Alliance knowingly pressured her into buying coins at inflated prices.

She said it agreed to refund 75 percent of some $35,000 in purchases she made. By keeping 25 percent, Alliance would get $8,750.

That's only the beginning. The woman, whose name was withheld from the court filing and the state agency's press release, said she believes she has spent $328,000 on coins over the years.

That's much of her life's savings. She said she found out later she had paid far too much for them.

"I've done it for years, but I've never done it to this extreme. Don't ask me why," she said.

She said the hobby just grew on her. She used it as a form of relaxation to get her mind off serious health issues, she said.

She now warns others against becoming someone's prey. "I would never, to this day, do it again," she said.

Mr. Cordray said the state has "zero tolerance for scammers."

According to the suit, Alliance has used high-pressure sales tactics to sell coins over the phone, often misrepresenting the value and grade of the coins for sale.

The company claimed to offer a 15-day refund policy.

Consumers who rely on the sales presentations may not discover the misrepresented value until after the refund period has passed, according to the complaint.

Mr. Cordray seeks restitution for victims and a $25,000 civil penalty for each violation of the law.

"We suspect there are definitely more victims out there," Kim Kowalski, a spokesman for Mr. Cordray, said.

Consumers who believe they have been exploited or victims of fraud can report such action by calling the state attorney general's office at 800-282-0515 or posting a complaint online at speakoutohio.gov.

Operation Short Change includes 15 Federal Trade Commission cases and 42 law enforcement actions by the U.S. Department of Justice, as well as those filed at the state level.

It has probed job opportunity scams, bogus government grants, phony debt-reduction services, unauthorized charges on consumers' credit or debit cards, and other financial schemes.

In addition to Ohio, the states that are participating are California, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin.

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.



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